MT BULLER TRAILBIKE ADVENTURE 2006 - BY MARK JOY
I can’t believe it’s all over, the biggest event in my life in recent years that has been 9 months in the planning and has been the focus of my wandering mind during those long boring days at work.
2005 was the year that I was going somewhere, wasn’t sure where, wasn’t sure when, but it did involve my bike and a reasonable sum of money. My wife Deb and I did a deal, she would take a trip to lands unknown with her friend Sharon, and I would participate in an organised dirtbike tour with one of my mates, so it was agreed and away we went in the research department.
Deb actually wanted to go to Bali, but after the Indonesian courts locked up Schappell Corby, we agreed that it could happen to anyone (innocent or not) and I told Deb that if she gets arrested ( and at this point I want to state that I never used the term “carrying 40kgs of crack”), not to expect me to sell the house and move to Bali to visit every week-end, I will just send encouraging letters from where-ever in the world me and the boys and the 21 year old Nanny happen to be living. So Deb and Sharon settled on Vietnam which just left me to work on my destination, I didn’t want desert, I didn’t want outback Queensland, it came down to a choice between Cape York or Victorian High Country.
Now I have a sister Deb and her husband Chad who live in Cairns and they have expressed a desire to leave their road bikes at home and hire some dirt dogs to ride to the Cape. For me, I would only take this trip if I could fly to Cairns and hire bikes as well, I just couldn’t drive all that way and then rev the guts out of my XR400 for 5 days in the sand and salt water, then face the drive home followed by an expensive rebuild of all things reciprocating. As it turned out, my sister was planing a trip to NZ and thought that the Cape will just have to wait, so with options narrowed it was decided with much fanfare that the Victorian High Country will be my choice of choices. Problem, by now with all our pondering and posturing, it was June 2005 and a curious thing occurs in them thar mountains that this little ol’ boy from Queensland didn’t anticipate, snow. Bloody cold white stuff that apparently falls from the sky (sounds like some pagan belief to me who has never witnessed said fallout) in some high regions of the southern states, could this be true, they’re telling me it won’t clear until November, shit, there goes 2005 just like that. Unfortunately November/December are very busy in my line of work (Fire alarm servicing), so with heavy heart I begrudgingly concluded that it’ll have to be next year. Not content with that procrastination and expecting all kinds of little obstacles to pop up to be excuses on why it can’t be 2006, I emailed Mal Palmer at Mt Buller Bike Adventures to set a date.
“Jees Mark we don’t plan that far in advance, tell you what, you pick a date and that’ll be it”, so February 24th was agreed and it was to be a 3 dayer Buller to Bright, done, set, locked ‘n loaded, lock it in Eddy!
Better find someone to come with me now, problem, James in Bundaberg couldn’t get time off, Lawrie in Toowoomba was booked for the beach, Dave in Toowoomba had other commitments, looks like it’s all three of me, myself, and I. Doesn’t matter, coupla days, beautiful, I work alone and drive for days alone, at least I can burp, fart and sing to Slim Dusty the whole damn way.
The next 9 months dragged on, but always in the back of my mind was this little shining light, this little beam of promise, this little meaning of life, having a bad day well hey what about Mt Buller, feeling a bit down well hey guess what’s coming up big fella!
My wife’s trip came and went, a trail ride at Stanthorpe was a hoot, then it was Christmas and all the little holidays after it, better start doing some serious preparation. New oil and filter, sparkplug, new heavy duty tubes just in case the old ones were getting sad, new back tyre at Mal Palmers recommendation, replace the broken barkbuster, fit braided front brake line, fix the head light bulb, re-assess the bumbag contents, buy a rain coat (rain, again probably just some pagan myth, water doesn’t fall out of the sky at least not around Toowoomba for years anyway). Organise a quick half day trail ride with Lawrie and Bob just to make sure tubes aren’t pinched and oil seals are good, and it’s at this point my plans take a different turn. “hey Bob, you know I’m going to Mt Buller in 2 weeks, why don’t you come with me?”, “yeh OK I will”….. Well this totally chance trailride and a totally chance throw away question has snagged me a travel buddy, you beauty!
Fast forward now to February 21st, and this was bloody fast with work being steady and my mind racing forward, my planned preparation day (at my wife’s suggestion as she has seen me on far too many occasion working flat out until the day before something big, getting 2 hours sleep and heading off, left wondering about my safety and presence of mind), pack the gear bags, check over the car, organise money, tidy up a few work phone calls, check the trailer bearings, oh and just do a quick check of the trailer frame in case something has rusted out in the last 25 years of sitting out in the weather. Problem, tap tap tap crunch, big rust whole right at the hitch point, no time to fix, better ring me ol’ mate Lawrie and borrow his trailer. That thankfully obtained, did some minor mods on it, checked its wheel bearings, fixed its lights and loaded up, and with all this prior preparation and thoughtfulness it came down to a late night before with 4 hours sleep, well I tried. Was doing real good, asleep in bed until Son 2 rings up at 12.30am with information that some idiot had decided to let down 2 of his tyres and it’s off to do Dad Duty.
The Trip Down
22nd February 2006
Alarm went off 0430, breakfast, grab a few things, pull down the bike and quietly sneak the car out to head down the Toowoomba range to pick up Bob Condon at his mini Ponderosa home under the range where the buffalo roam and the skies are not cloudy all day.
0630 we say good bye to Karla and the kids who are just as excited as daddy is and are leaving Toowoomba for Goondiwindi by 0730, game on.
Because I travel a lot for my work, I had thought ahead and brought my little DVD player and hired some movies for this epic 16 hour trip ( to be covered in 2 days with some tourist stops), as it turns out we only got to one movie because we chatted like 2 women on a girls night out. Bob and I hadn’t really crossed paths very often before so we had a lot to explain and to tell about ourselves ( and I was only kidding about the cross dressing alright!) next thing we are pulling into Cowra after 12 hours and checking into a van park for the night (yes we were officially trailer trash). Popped into the local for a meal, “you blokes better order now ‘cause the kitchen is closing and we want to go home, and don’t order a bloody well down steak!” “OK just spaghetti bolognaise will be fine thanks”.
23rd February 2006
Good sleep after watching “Little Britain”, just as well we thought to bring sleeping bags as this place has no linen, head off again at 0500 stopping regularly for fuel, driver change and to feed Bobs caffeine addiction (at this point I should point out that he is a lawyer and becomes real edgy when caffeine levels run low).
Passing through Holbrook we noticed that some drunk uboat captain had totally grounded his submarine in this park next to the highway and making the most of a photo opportunity climbed on board and snapped away. Next on our tourist route was Glenrowan, a curious little town just off the freeway that of course is the site of Ned Kelly’s last stand, needless to say everything in the place has a Ned theme, Kelly’s last stand interactive show, Ned street, Siege street, Kelly’s Koffee house, Shoot-out shithouses, you get the idea. Must admit that I haven’t brushed on Ned since primary school and I actually learnt something, just ask me, I know Kelly’s.
Getting pretty close now, better ring Mal and give him an ETA, apparently he’s off picking up some hire bikes for two blokes flying in from Bangkok and won’t be at the Lodge (Aalfor Lodge at Mt Buller our starting point) until later, so take your time boys.
Bob finds Bonnie Doon on the map (remember the movie The Castle), only 20 minutes out of our way, we must go there to feel the tranquillity and more importantly get a tee-shirt to say we did. What a bloody disappointment, the lake is dry, the resorts are in disrepair, the pub is showing signs of desperation, couldn’t be bothered finding the Kerrigan’s weekender and we left very disillusioned (still got a tee shirt though).
Got to the bottom of Mt Buller around 1700 mexican time (Bob insists we say 1600 /1700, but I maintain when in Rome…) still too early for Mal so its up the mountain we go to have a Captain Cook at the actual Mt Buller resort area.. I always wondered what happens in a snow ski town when there ain’t any, well it’s building and construction everywhere, chair lifts pulled apart, the only inhabitants are the construction and maintenance workers. We drove past a sign that said something about no access to snow fields and since there was no snow ( ski fields are just like mowed grass in summer, go figure), I reckoned that we had access permitted, driving right up to the top chair lifts on this crappy dirt road towing the bikes. I’m sure there were eyes looking out covered windows all round with blokes muttering “if them damn dirtbikers unload those bikes we’re gittin our guns”.
A nice light meal was partaken at the only café open, shared the meal with a thousand crows that will carry your whole plate away if you’re distracted, then back down the mountain with brake callipers glowing red and intrepid thoughts of the endless skid marks that exit the roadway at every corner.
That put us at Aalfor Lodge around 1900, first punters to arrive with a warm meet and greet from Mal, his brother Mark, and trailboss Tony and Darren. The rest of the tour participants then arrived across a period of 4 hours, a few Bundy and Colas (you Queenslanders are really wild) some last minute bike adjustments, an XR that wouldn’t start and then managing to cross thread the plug, two bikes with 38psi in each tyre, riders briefing just after midnight then into bed.
Ride Day One
0600 breakfast (for all future references to breakfast, please read eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, muesli, fruit, juice, tea, coffee, all provided hot and strong, we just had to eat it), suit up, final riders briefing, idle very quietly out of the residential area up through someone’s back yard then onto an odd little just graded fire break that twisted and turned throughout some forestry and along the side of the road past the Mt Buller gates. Within minutes we encountered our first river crossing, about 200mm deep 4m across and flowing, all getting through without submarine incidents.
Some nice flowing gravel roads that twisted around the mountains as we climbed and were taking advantage of the ever increasing views through the woods. One view none of us expected was the bulbar of a fully laden timber truck coming down hill at a rate of knots cutting the corners and not even letting up when encountering 14 site seeing trailbike riders. Hello, yes now I’m awake, yes Mal said something in his preamble about traffic, holy shit that was close, anymore coming? A massive cloud of zero visibility dust was being sucked along in its wake, hope the road doesn’t turn abruptly, Bob’s vision clears in the nick of time to line up a grid. After 2 more of these we get into calmer territory and wind our way up to the rocky trails of Mt Sterling that looks over to Mt Buller. This time we didn’t encounter trucks, just 100s of hiking children from a nearby school retreat all making their way down the mountain in groups of 10, with comments like “swap ya our books for your bikes” or “give us lift mister” or “is that a gun in your nylons or are you…” (sorry that was the Swedish Backpackers and that stays on tour).
Following the little rocky road were these tall poles that apparently didn’t have any purpose until Mal explained that when snow covered, skiers trek across the mountain top cross country and the road is about 3ft under, so the poles are like track markers.
10 minutes ride later we assembled at Craig’s Hut, the little slab shack made famous from the movie “Man from Snowy River”, and upon reading the info signs I find that it was actually made for the movie as a prop, fell into disrepair twice then finally is being maintained by local council as it is just so popular. I always thought that it was already there and famous and was just used for the movie, apparently its not even a type of construction that is commonly used in this area, still, don’t let facts get in the way of a good yarn (a bit like this story actually).To be honest, it was the photo from adds and articles in bike mags of XR’s parked outside Craig’s Hut that hooked both Bob and myself into wanting this tour, so this was icing on the cake, day 1 and only 2 hours into the day, how good is this kids! And talk about modern technology, here we are on top of this rugged mountain peak standing on the veranda of this rustic looking shack, Bob takes a photo on his phone and instantly sends it to his work partner just to rub it in.
This is where my story may get a little vague, following a myriad of 4wd type roads and trail, pulling 3rd and 4th gear, sweeping around mountain sides cutting through gullies and valleys then running down ridge lines, we pulled up at the lunch spot at an intersection of two tracks. Since we had made good time the lunch truck driven by Mal’s brother Mark was still 20minutes behind so Mal says lets ride up to this little lookout that’s only 5 minutes away. 20 minutes later we peak out of the canopy onto this bald top lookout with, as we come to expect is just the normal, this stunning vista of green mountain ranges , blue sky (with torn and rugged battlements on high).
The track to here was a little hard in spots and some riders were shagged when we pulled up, imagine their horror when Mal announces that we will now ride back the way we came to have lunch, then back again after lunch because this is the way we are heading. One of our riders who had just flown in from Bangkok and got straight on these WRF hire bikes was a Dutchman called Michel, and it was at this point I’m sure he actually considered missing lunch and just waiting for the tours return, he was knackered and feeling a little ill. Upon returning to the lunch truck (or the Roach Coach), we were confronted with a table laid out with great rolls and sandwiches, juice, soft drinks, Gator aids, fruit and muesli bars, what a spread.
The lunch mobile was also the fuel tanker so we all gassed up with premium unleaded, refilled empty camels and prepared to continue to Bright with the ride up till here being fairly hot, dusty and rocky, and destined to continue in that vain for the rest of the day. After lunch my Honda started playing up a little, just blubbering at quarter to half throttle, and pulling up at a corner to direct others I decided to check a few things. Firstly draining the fuel bowl with no effect, then removing the dust covered filter skin, this did the trick, the old girl was back to revving like a banshee.
Rolling into a caravan park around 1700, settling into the cabins(circa 1970) and cleaning up with some hot well serviced showers, we all rode next door to lock up the bikes in Ed’s Shed ( a whole section further along in this story will explain Ed, who is virtually inexplicable and a real character). We were carted into Harrietville Pub for tea, sitting around the outdoor setting in the warm evening with great meals, several Bundys and many a good yarn. One of our tour participants was a journalist from the Herald Sun named Wolter who was reporting not only on Mal’s tour, but on a Husky WR250 test bike, and up until now had been quiet and unassuming, but was transformed into very vocal conversant with loud opinions on all subjects and the source of many a good giggle (our group overall was very vocal, must be all deaf from motors revving in helmets all day). Piling into a couple of 4wds for the trip back to the van park, we were all laughing like school boys up the back of the bus, back to Eds for another Bundy then Mal drops us back to the park to sleep.
Ride Day Two
Today was a recovery day, an easy late start to let everyone recharge and sleep late, a good plan as some of the participants were really worn out, even opting not to even do the afternoon loop.
Light rain had fallen overnight and today was overcast, both Bob and I are both early risers and raring to go again, so we rose at 0600 and walked over to Ed’s to get our bikes to ride into Bright for coffee and an early snack while all others slept. We found Bright to be a beautiful little town with eateries and alfresco dining in pretty streets, so I enjoyed a flavoured milk and a sausage roll and Bob stayed on longer for a really good cup of coffee and casual read of the local papers. I ripped back to Ed’s to perform some maintenance, clean the air filter and fit a new skin, lube the chain and check chain tension and gas up. Breakfast was presented at 1000 with ride starting at 1100, ripping around a huge grass paddock which was extremely slippery and then watching some of the lads chucking monos with Phil nearly dragging the rear end a couple of times. By now there was light rain falling as we headed out for more trail action, around 1100 we scaled the biggest hill climb we’ve even seen topping out at a hang glider take off site covered in grass carpet and as smooth as silk, gently curving off into space with an awesome view of Bright way down in the valley and low cloud drifting around various peaks. Bob at this stage was stoked, he loves hills and he reckons this was a classic, first section was loose dirt/stones, then on the bend was sticks and bark from loggers, followed by hard rock surface right to the top with ultimate traction and pulling constant 3rd gear all the way, fast and furious. Inspection of our tyres revealed fracturing of many knobs, Mal reckons he only gets 3 rides from a rear tyre as these surfaces are so abrasive. At this point Mal took some more photos and interviewed each of us for our thoughts, then ripping down the mountain in light drizzle to a fantastic counter meal at the Wondi Pub.
Feeling pretty full because after all we only just had breakfast as well, we checked out a small zig zag section around some tree and grass covered single trail supposedly set out by World Enduro Champion Stefan Meriman, good fun and a little slippery this certainly settled my belly. Riding back into Ed’s property we did a little single trail zig zag loop that was one of his old horse trails, now I should point out how easy it i
s to get a horse to step over fallen timber, much much different to a motor bike especially with a light sheen of moisture. This little section nearly caused a mutiny as some riders, in particular Stuart on a Husaberg who had a badly slipping front sprocket and a broken kickstart spring and was loosing it pretty quick. Bob and I absolutely loved this little technical section, no worries to us mountain boys.
Luckily we then fanged down 4wd trail to let everyone settle down as we wound our way up this mother of a mountain to another spectacular lookout, looking up to Mt Feathertop. The trail towards the top of this lookout was basically razor back with 70 degree slopes either side, very rocky and loose but quite safe if you just poked along, this was the epitome of High Country vista in my mind at least, while imagining the man from Snowy River giving a cheer and jumping his wiry mountain pony down the slope.
More photos taken then a good casual ride back down to the road section, at which point Bob and I just snapped and it was on for young and old with massive slides and peak revs all the way back to Ed’s, bloody near running over his pet peacock as we came roosting in.
Bike maintenance again, the hire bikes had chains so tight you could play a tune on them, and Alex found his XR still had way too much pressure in the front tyre and was really pissing him off. We filled tanks and camels, rode back to the park to clean up and return to Ed’s for BBQ tea and DVDs, rain was a bit more persistent now and we stayed indoors all evening , even trying some of Ed’s venison steaks that were tender and juicy.
They didn't warn me the other guy was wised up to come hooning past me and drench me, saw him coming, cranked the throttle and held my line, as you can see he never pasted me and was at this moment heading into a very deep hole...
Ride Day Three
Breakfast at 0700, this time we had all players lining up for the return trip to Buller after the slow day yesterday, a new sprocket fitted to the Husaberg, and the weather was overcast but not raining. We rode new trail through the mountains with zero dust, Michel managed to drown his WRF in 1 ft of water at a crossing only to find out the hire bike had no plug spanner so a rider was sent ahead to find Bob and ask him to ride back with his spanner (a special small WRF size apparently) all ending up at the look out near lunch stop from day one, this time Mark had the truck parked up the top with hotdogs for all. Our lead rider Tony on Husky 450 had a get off at some stage and bent his bars, hurt his shoulder mildly and more importantly scratched his new helmet, Alex however was now one happy camper after he put up with his badly handling bike for 2 days, now it was working fine and he was flying.
We noticed at this stage how fast everyone was riding, we were ahead of schedule and everyone was just blasting, though perhaps Rob on his DRZ 400 was a little too excited. Mal suggested we all leave the lookout after lunch go down a bit, turn around and come charging up over the rise just for the camera, whereas Rob over cooked it and went careering down the other side ploughing into the scrub when the track veered left and then dragging it out of the under growth, don’t worry mate we got it on film.
The one and only crash I had didn’t make it to film, and was only witnessed by Bob as I was picking the bike up, so I was pretty happy with that. I started daydreaming a little, hit a lead up to an erosion bank (or water bars as the Vics call them) slightly crooked, front wheel washed across the top and I went skidding down the other side, luckily being smooth and having no rocks. Just popped the spring off my side stand which we quickly found, fitted and continued on with my confidence slightly lower. These water bars incidentally are the biggest and the most abundant I’ve ever seen, obviously these trails are well maintained.
Our resident photographer and mid sweep was Darren on a KTM 200, he would often charge ahead and lay in ambush with camera at the ready usually at a huge jump, river crossing or hill, these will be edited and put to music with a DVD that Mal will send out to all participants.
The afternoon section was proving a bit much though, with a few more minor crashes and a broken Husaberg chain on a hill, Mal decided to cut and run, heading back to the lodge. Though at one intersection he gave us an option to fang a good loop or just ride back home, to my surprise we had a good 9 riders still wanting more (do I need to mention this included Bob and I). More freight train racing with Bob, then me then Phil all right on each others tail and all just giving it everything, we were just so pumped and didn’t want it to finish. Mal had promised we would ride up Hero Hill which by the look of the DVD is nearly endless and just when you think its over you turn a corner and wait, there’s more! But it got knocked on the head as time was running out.
A quick photo opportunity at the Mt Buller sign, a quick lap of a little blast track just at the back of Aalfor Lodge and we were done, but not before checking out the spot were Kellie, one of Mal’s lead rider chicks, had stacked previously and her and bike had stopped cart wheeling for a good 60m. Poor girl is recovering but I remember thinking, Mal said this crashed happened in the last 10 minutes of the ride, just near home, so when he asked does anyone want to do a few more quick laps, I declined and headed home grateful I was still in one piece.
Everyone including Mal had to work the next day and were busy loading up to head home, mostly back 2 – 3 hours from in and around Melbourne, everyone that is except the Queenslanders. We had the furthest to travel and elected to stay at the lodge one more night, to get up and go early the next day, so we just sat around and watched everyone fuss around. Then Mal said his little speech, everyone shook hands and agreed it was a most successful ride. Eventually it was just Bob and I, watching a bit of TV, phoning home to report that all was well, then into bed all organised for the morning.
Travel Day Homeward
Up at 0400 mexican, breakfast and load car, tie down bikes and hit the road 0500, agreeing to stop and change drivers every 2 hours which worked an absolute treat, we covered the 19 hour drive easily and safely. Called into the Dog on the Tucker Box, which was so small it was ridiculous, but I got a photo and that’s what matters. Stopped for lunch at the Parkes Radio Telescope which was awesome in its engineering, hit heavy rain around Goondiwindi and again we talked at lot all the way, this time about the ride, the people and maybe some minor things we would do different.
We said our goodbyes at Bobs ranch around 2230, I was home in my house by 2300, trip done, big tick, been there and definitely done that!
As I originally said, can’t believe it’s all over, but I’ve lived it and was very fortunate that I came home safely with no damage to myself or my bike.
I am extremely thankful that Bob Condon could accompany me, he was great company and a great riding buddy, I can’t imagine after a ride like that having no one to relate events with, it would have been a real bummer to have done this alone.
Now, 2008, how about that trip to the Cape, better ring my sister…..Extra word from the good wife…. As much as I still appreciate the nice view of a good bum in a pair of nylons , Harrods is looking real good!!!!
The ED Factor
Ed is a mate of Mals, he lives in this quaint little house across the Ovens river on a property named Riverbend, situated next door to the Fairleigh caravan park, 12km from Bright. He used to run horse rides for kids and tourists but the insurers screwed him out of business, so he’s looking at diversifying into trailbike rides, holiday cabins and snow accommodation. This is the first time Mal has included Ed’s property into a tour because travelling through his place gives us good trail access to Mt Feather Top lookout and heaps of good trails around his place (they used to be horse trails but can get cleaned up well for bikes).
So this tour we had Mal and team staying at Ed’s, and we had breakfast here twice with dinner once and many a good social drink around the house. All our bikes were locked in his shed each night, and all maintenance was performed using his well equipped workshop for minor repairs. Ed’s 4wd Landcruiser has a 30 degree lean to the left since it has been rolled twice and once belonged to a bunch of Aboriginals who sold it to him for a few bucks, it has a 80 litre tank and gets about 350k so its pretty primed. It was in this that we drove back form the Harrietville Pub, six of us with Wolter wearing Ed’s cowboy hat, with both he and Ed talking at full volume at the same time on different subjects and the rest of us edging them on, talk about laugh till you cry.
He had to pull up to show us a fallen tree on his mates driveway that he wants Ed to cut up with his chainsaw but Ed says stuff him. And of course while Ed was mid story he swerved the Cruiser to miss (read hit) a possum then bang back to the story without missing a breath, we just kacked ourselves.
Ed himself is the icon, though his surrounds certainly add to his character. I’m told he is a pilot and has a ships master ticket, and the stories he told of sailing through the Bahamas with a tour group of gay guys, of borrowing a speed boat and trying to enter a nightclub across the bay with his mate wearing a full wet suit and goggles, and then there was the girl in a mini skirt wearing roller blades who bit his mates ear off during a passionate moment, then sticking the ear piece in an empty beer can and taking it and patient to the hospital for repair.
This man has life experience, and he’s happy to relate his travels to anyone who will listen.
Mark Joy ~ 2006